I am fortunate to have had a wise and loving mother, who taught me a lot about how to live. There were times as a child, however, when I found the wisdom she shared hard to swallow.
If, for example, I’d been taunted or teased by another child (as happens to most children from time to time), and come home in tears, she would quietly sit down with me. “Let’s try to understand the other person,” she would say. Then we would discuss why the taunting child might have behaved in such a way. In the moment, what I really wanted was for her to defend me and react angrily; to phone the child’s parents and give them a piece of her mind; but she did none of those things.
Rather she guided me toward an objective understanding of the bigger picture. Looking back, I realize that she was trying to awaken compassion in me, so that I could forget my own hurt, forgive them, and move on.
How can we genuinely forgive another person when they have hurt, or even betrayed, us?
First: Try to understand the other person. Ask yourself, “Were they themselves feeling unhappy, overwhelmed, or threatened by circumstances in their life? Was it their conscious intention to hurt me, or was it merely an unconscious act on their part?”
We had a very dear friend who, despite many wonderful qualities, had a fiery temper. Once she called a friend at his office to ask him a question. Uncharacteristically, he angrily snapped back at her, “I don’t have time for you while I’m at work. Quit bothering me!” and slammed down the phone.
Our redheaded friend swung into her angry, reactive mode, and immediately called him back to “have it out” with him. Fortunately for both of them, the line was busy. She tried several more times, but with the same result.
Eventually she got involved with other activities, calmed down, and began thinking about the exchange with her friend. “He isn’t usually like this. I wonder if he’s having some personal problems.”
After a few hours, she was able to reach him by phone, and the conversation went in a very different direction than it would have earlier. “Is something wrong, Phil?” she began. “You didn’t seem like your usual self when we spoke earlier.”
Phil broke down in tears, and said, “Thank you, Joan, for your understanding. I’m really having a terrible time right now with problems at work and with my family.” They had a heartfelt conversation, and the incident deepened rather than damaged their friendship.
With understanding comes acceptance and forgiveness, as reflected by the beautiful words of Jesus Christ, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Next: Try to feel within yourself what part of you was hurt. Was it your pride? Your sense of trust or fairness? Interiorize your mind, and try to identify where, within your own ego, the pain resides. Visualize it as a pulsing sphere of locked up, self-protective energy. Then try gradually to release the energy of this turbulent vortex upward into the spiritual eye. When we do this, our egoic reference point begins to dissolve into awareness of our higher nature.
Finally: Change your expectations. When we let go of our ideas about how others should treat us, acceptance of the ups and downs of life becomes easier. It’s a matter of shifting our awareness away from the thought that everything that happens must be measured against our own reaction to it. People’s actions simply are what they are.
See yourself impersonally. Swami Kriyananda once said to me, “Remember, no one is special to me. I’m not even special to myself.”
So the ultimate gift of forgiveness is this: It helps us to rise above the dualities of passing joy and sorrow and experience the true joy of unity with everything.
The Indian scriptures say, “Forgiveness is the might of the mighty. It is quietness of mind. Forgiveness and gentleness are the qualities of the self-possessed. They represent eternal virtue.”
In divine friendship,